Title: Batman: The Movie
Release Date: 1992
In 1989 Tim Burton transformed the nature of the comic book movie forever with his darkly expressionistic interpretation of the Batman.That summer, Bat-Mania swept the country and I feverishly set about collecting every scrap of information I could find; newspaper cuttings, magazine articles, posters, trading cards, TV interviews, etc. In short: if it had that iconic oval on it, I collected it. The inevitable movie tie-in game represented perhaps the most exciting prospect given the recent shift to 16-bit technology.
Initially released on several home computer formats, I had thoroughly enjoyed the excellent C64 version, and so expected great things from the Megadrive iteration. Unfortunately, a contractual wrangle between creators Sunsoft and Nintendo over exclusivity rights held up the game’s European release, meaning it wasn’t available to buy until 1992; a full three years after the film had first hit cinemas. The wait had only increased my expectation levels: could it possibly live up to them?
Sunsoft had previously released Nintendo NES and Turbo Grafx-16 versions of the game, the latter being a top-down, isometric ‘labyrinth’ style game akin to Bomberman, bizarrely enough. The Megadrive edition of the game was ported from the NES with additional visual enhancements consistent with the difference in power between both consoles. Level design, too, was tweaked bringing it more in line with the plot of the film: an especially welcome change given the NES version’s vague resemblance and perplexing choice of villains.
Each of the game’s six levels are modelled on locations from the movie, featuring two driving stages which enable the player to take control of the Batmobile and Batwing respectively. The platform levels are fairly straightforward, but difficulty levels do ramp up pretty quickly. Consequently, the game provides a stiff enough test to remain engaging. One nice feature of the C64 game (one sadly absent in this version), was a timed puzzle level, wherein our hero had to deduce the chemical formulation for Smilex, the Joker’s lethal toxin. Although only a brief distraction, it added a small, but welcome detective element to the game.
There is a distinct absence of those ‘wonderful toys’ within the game. Instead Batman utilises a fairly limited range of martial arts movements. The NES version featured an array of weaponry as pickups, and I’m unsure why this option wasn’t carried over. The grapple gun is available, but functions solely as a platforming tool (in the C64 version the grapple could be used to take down enemies), leaving only the trusty Batarang as an offensive weapon. Controls are fairly responsive, although the jump function feels a touch heavy and can make timing gaps pretty tricky.
Every attempt has been made to recreate the atmosphere and lavish production values of the film. This is particularly noticeable in the superbly rendered backgrounds, perfectly capturing the tone of the film in all of its Expressionistic, Art Deco glory, from the dimly-lit, rain-swept city streets, to the eerie, Gothic majesty of the Cathedral. If only such care an attention had been applied to the main character sprite, which is a little ragged around the edges, particularly his feet, making him look like he’s sinking into the environment. Enemy sprites aren’t much better and are largely repetitive and dull, with the exception of level bosses, each of which are recognisable characters from the film. Given the relative power of the system over other platforms, I had expected a far more interesting array of character sprites.
Many Megadrive games feature catchy, memorable soundtracks and this is no exception. The opening credits riff on Danny Elfman’s Batman theme (without encroaching into copyright territory), and helps set the scene nicely for the ensuing action. Sound design is let down somewhat by thin, overly digitised effects, and a lack of variety. Many of the in-game effects do not sound discernibly different.
Although not a bad game by any stretch, Batman is a little disappointing, but perhaps my criticism is proportionate to the high expectations I harboured. Attempts to faithfully recreate the atmosphere of the movie are admirable, but the game is let down somewhat by mediocre character sprites, generic sound effects, and a lack of imagination in level planning. Perhaps, had Sunsoft created the game from the ground up instead of rehashing a previous version, and combined elements from other platforms, we may well have had a true Megadrive classic on our hands. As it is, we have another ‘what might have been’ movie tie-in, but one that should definitely be in the collection of any self respecting bat-fan.
The Writer of this piece was: Martin Doyle
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